BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – The former city manager of Belen is now suing the city after she says she was punished for calling out the mayor for allegedly misusing public money. According to a lawsuit filed last month, Leona Vigil says she was wrongly demoted and eventually fired after raising a red flag on some questionable spending.
Vigil told auditors Mayor Jerah Cordova insisted the city move forward with a project to repair the sidewalks on 5th Street even though city employees told him the work would violate the Americans with Disability Act.
She also told them he wanted to spend public money on the birthday celebration for the renowned feminist artist, Judy Chicago, who lives and opened an exhibit in Belen, despite being told the celebration would violate the state’s anti-donation clause. She claims Mayor Cordova asked the former community services director to arrange for police and fire personnel to monitor the event even provide city garbage collection services there.
According to the lawsuit, Cordova demanded the sidewalk project and the birthday celebration be done or someone would be held accountable. “She made those reports to auditors and that’s when the slide downhill started. And the mayor came to her in the fall of 2019 and said you need to take a leave of absence,” says Attorney Tim White.
Vigil says she was eventually demoted to community services director, then to deputy clerk. In February, she filed a complaint to human resources about severance pay that she never received and she says she was fired two weeks later.
“She’s been treated illegally. Thrown back out into the workforce during this COVID disaster that we have going on has struggled to be able to get a job. She has attained a new job finally now but it was a significant hurdle to have to tell prospective employers I got fired from my last job and then she has to go through all the reasons,” White says.
Her attorney says she filed this lawsuit to prevent this from happening to anyone else. News 13 reached out to the city of Belen and they said they don’t comment on pending litigation.
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